By now you have probably seen and heard plenty about Sifu. It is indeed beautiful, fun to play, and most importantly very difficult. Sifu demands a lot from you, and it will take you to dark places you don’t want to go mentally. It requires you to be patient and to learn from your past mistakes. I don’t expect everyone to be able to finish the game, but I do know most people can appreciate what Sloclap has to offer.
Sifu has a very minimalistic design to it, but don’t let that fool you. There’s a lot to this game, even with there only being 5 levels. There are clues scattered around each one, and shortcuts that you can unlock to help you get to the bosses quicker. There are multiple paths to each level, and it’ll ultimately be up to you to find out the best path for your runs.
The biggest decisions in Sifu are all about the shortcuts in my opinion. In many levels you have the option to skip major sections of the game if you get the keys to the doors or elevators. You are probably thinking “Well why the hell wouldn’t you take the shortcut”, but it’s not that simple. If you do take the shortcut in some levels, like the first level, you can miss a shrine. It’s not the biggest problem to have, but some levels, like the first, it’s probably better to try to get all the shrines. The level design challenges you to make the tough choices. Will you go straight to the boss and go in at a younger age or are you going to try to play through it all to get the shrines and risk dying a couple of times before the boss. I think the system is genius, but I hated it as a person who wanted more upgrades.
There are two upgrade systems in the game, move sets and your character traits such as focus and structure upgrades. The move sets can be unlocked at the home base, after a death, or at a shrine while character traits can only be upgraded at shrines. The move sets can be unlocked permanently if you unlock it enough times, while your stamina and focus bars will go away with each run. I highly recommend spending all your XP to unlock all the moves you can. I only unlocked a few, so there was a little bit of grinding I wanted to do towards the end of the game. It’s not technically needed to finish the game, but it will help you get through levels with minimal deaths.
I found it disappointing that the focus and structure upgrades went away, because it meant that some of the move upgrades couldn’t even be used for a while. For instance, there are focus moves that require 2 bars to use, but you might not even get your 2nd bar until the 2nd or 3rd levels. Part of me wishes that the two upgrade paths were reversed in terms of permanence, or at least move some of the focus upgrades to the permanent upgrade path.
It’s not all doom and gloom in terms of upgrades though, every time you complete a level your best run is saved (including your shrine upgrades). If you happened to not die in the first level, you would then be able to start the 2nd level at age 20 forever. This is by far the nicest thing Slowcap did for my mental health. If you can learn to master a level, it can go a long way for getting to the last boss in your late 20s or early 30s.
Let’s talk a little bit about the moment-to-moment gameplay, Sifu is very simple on the surface. You can block, parry, and avoid with just using the L1 button. Attacks are your typical light/heavy attacks with square and triangle, and then there’s the miscellaneous pick up weapons and vault. If only it were that simple. Throughout the game you will be challenged from every enemy. Even a large gang of easier thugs can be deadly given the right circumstances. You’ll always have to be on your toes, and the game will force you to master every move you are given. Probably the best move to master is the avoid. You can save your structure meter and build on the focus meter if you can learn each characters move sets and “avoid” accordingly. Once you get your focus meter up, you can perform your special moves and stop any enemy in their track. It saved me plenty of times, and you’ll be begging for your meter to fill during boss fights.
Sifu will absolutely punish you if you try to button mash, which is why it is necessary to take a much more passive approach to the game. Once you do get gist of things and can learn how to put combos together, there aren’t many games that make you feel more like an absolute badass. When the scenes change from behind the back third person to the side scrolling camera view, you know you are in for an absolute beat down treat. For the most part, the action is very well balanced and most of your deaths are from dumb moves you make.
The bosses in the game are going to make or break you. I think that they are very fun and challenging, but at times they can be brutal in an annoying way. It’ll only take a couple of hits from each boss to lose a life, but you’ll have to beat the shit out of them for them to lose theirs. At times, it feels like it punishes you just for the sake of being punished. There are 2 bosses that were a bigger pain in the ass than others, but eventually you should overcome them………well maybe not the final boss. The final boss made me want to quit gaming. I still don’t understand the boss after beating him my way. Everything about him is hard, and it’s beyond ridiculous the minimal damage you can inflict on him at a single point. It’s the only boss I really dreaded going back to after each death.
As far as the graphics, sounds, and haptics go in the game, I can say they are all well done. It’s not that the graphics are over the top impressive, but the art style works well with the game. It looks stunning at times, and even drab environments can be beautiful in the game. When you think of the sounds in the game, most people who play it will recall the opening club scenes. Having the EDM turned to 11 while you are just punishing everyone in the club is a sight to behold. However, most of the time the background music just does a nice way of blending in with the action. There are some audio clues that help with fighting, and I would recommend playing with headphones to hear them a bit better. The haptics are also a hit or miss in my opinion. There’s another part in the club where neon lights turn on, and it might be one of the coolest haptic implementations. Other than that, I completely forgot what it felt like already.
As much as I loved Sifu, there are some faults within the games. As I’ve already mentioned, the focus upgrades suck to have locked behind the shrine upgrades. You can really go the whole game without having a second focus bar, and it’s kind of annoying to have to make that concession. The camera in the game isn’t entirely dependable in the game either. Certain boss battles, I had issues not seeing attacks due to the camera being dumb, and it would probably help if they can patch it where some objects are transparent. It doesn’t happen often, but it can cost you a life if you aren’t careful. The parrying window is also very small. It gets kind of annoying to try to master, and I don’t think I ever will. Lastly, the final boss is complete crap in my opinion. After beating him in my cheaper way, I still have no clue what to really do with the final boss. He sucks and that’s all I will say about it.
Even with the final boss leaving a sour taste in my mouth, there’s something about Sifu that I can’t stop thinking about. My urge to jump back in has never been greater, and I really want to try to get the trophy for beating the game at age 25 or less. You won’t find a deep story like other games, but it’s serviceable for what it is and there’s a secret ending for those brave enough to take out the bosses in a different manner. I love Sifu, and the combat design is excellent. It’ll beat the crap out of you before you beat the crap out of it, but the euphoria of mastering parts of the game is hard to match.